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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PST

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review: The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie

by Shannon Berteau of Small Farmer’s Journal

Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor, or the value of repetition in the practice of performing basic farm tasks with our horses. Working with horses on a farm is a craft and a skill and as such it is a process of lifelong learning. In fact, most of us won’t have just one mentor, but rather a series of teamsters we chance to meet who have traveled a little farther down the road than we have, and who often appear in our lives just when we have the most need for (and receptivity to) their hard-acquired wisdom. No matter how much we think we might know, we need to remain humble enough to recognize that there is always something more we can learn from our fellow teamsters – and most especially from our horses.

— Stephen Leslie in The New Horse-Powered Farm

Do you remember back to high school or college, way back maybe? Do you remember a teacher that did do some lecturing but didn’t put you to sleep? Something about the sound of their voice, or the lyrical nature of their sentence structure kept you poised and listening. Even though I have rarely heard the voice of Stephen Leslie, in reading his articles and emails over the years for Small Farmer’s Journal I have felt that he embodies this tone. Beginning his new book, The New Horse-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale Sustainable Market Grower, I found myself delighted that I was going to get to read a whole book of this voice, instead of just a short Journal article.

This exemplary tone of his wouldn’t be that important, except for the fact that no matter how well read I am on the subject, I am not a horse owner, or a farmer (gardener with chickens?). I was nervous about gleaning the necessary information from its pages. However, his scholarly, well-educated yet not boring professorialship allowed me to delve in and explore these tools and systems with the comfort of the most well established greenhorn. From tips on getting started with horses to using the basic tools for tillage and cultivation to whole farm management, Leslie takes things one step at a time and breaks to allow for questions periodically so he knows everyone is on equal footing; true sign of a good and patient teacher.

Once into the nuts and bolts of the book the pace is surprisingly quick as he takes you through a 300+ oversized page tour crossing this vast culture of knowledge. Sections include but are not limited to: draft horse breeds, care of the workhorse, working with your horse and training the teamster, training horses, working with horses on the farm, farm fertility, plowing, seeding, infrastructure, vegetable production, cultivation systems, harvesting, hay making and economics. Whew, what a mouthful. It is a lot to cover in 300 pages. He is brief in spots but somehow thorough at the same time. I particularly enjoyed the section on caring for your work horse which I didn’t expect to be detailed yet contained useful and important information for novice horse folk as well as good advice for the sage. There is also a reference section in the back and the bountiful side bars give you the impression that each of these farmers could be called upon in a time of need with their knowledge and expertise.

He pays much respect to these individuals and I truly enjoyed their shared perspectives as well as Leslie’s political interjections. Even though they can’t even really be construed as political, more philosophical:

Everything on this planet is connected, and every action must come full circle. Small farmers everywhere are planting the seeds of hope for a more sustainable world. In the future true food security will be founded on a return to human-scale farming communities.

I am left with the impression that this book could take the place of an over-view course entitled, Horse-Powered Farming 101. As Leslie states, it is a “practical application of draft horse power for the farmer of today”. It is, as he sets out to create, a “basic tool kit of the horse-powered market garden”. If you are starting from scratch you will need to delve more deeply into many of the sections touched upon in Leslie’s book with this in mind. Also, he periodically directs readers toward the references that have previously been made available on the subject including our very own Lynn Miller, Doc Hammill, and Eric and Anne Nordell.

I think this book will serve as a useful compass, or syllabus, from which to guide many young farmers’ journeys into farming with horses. I wish them the best of luck! Thank you, Stephen Leslie, for contributing this tome to help folks in their introduction to and/or transition toward draft-powered farming.

Anita Van Grunsven, seasoned horse farmer extraordinaire says,

For a beginning farmer it has a lot of good issues to consider and I really liked the interviews with people including apprentices all the way up to experienced folk like the Nordells. This book is for kindergarten through third grade horse farming experience levels and I consider myself a third grader.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Low Impact Ranching

Low Impact Ranching

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This kind of low-impact management has yielded visible results for Rose who can display flourishing pasture grasses, healthy cattle, and firm banks in his riverside pasture. “I am just a detail oriented person and one of those farm boys who always likes to have a project,” Rose said. “I am trying to get the most out of my land and efforts and I really enjoy seeing the positive outcomes of a finished project.”

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Personal Food Production

Personal Food Production

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We can argue about when, but someday within several decades, oil and the plentiful super-market food we take for granted will be in short supply and/or very expensive. We must all start immediately to grow as much of our own food as possible. This is the fun part and is the subject of a vast popular movement highlighted by innumerable books, magazines, and web sites. Square-foot gardening, raised beds, and permaculture are the new rage. We don’t need thirty-million acres of lawns. Flowers aren’t very filling either.

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.

LittleField Notes Farm Log

LittleField Notes: Farm Log

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My starting every column with a discussion of the weather set me to thinking about that old clichéd idea of talking about the weather; how it is all old men talk about downtown at the local coffee shop; how they sit for hours telling endless lies about how the snow was deeper, the nights colder and the hills steeper when they were young. However, clichés have basis in truth, and it is true that weather is a wonderful conversation opener.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Back to the Land

Back to the Land

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Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014. In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

LittleField Notes: Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

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To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Week in the Life of D Acres

Week in the Life of D Acres

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D Acres of New Hampshire in Dorchester, a permaculture farm, sustainability center, and non-profit educational organization, is a bit of a challenge to describe. Join us for this week-in-the-life tour, a little of everything that really did unfold in this manner. Extraordinary, perhaps, only in that these few November days were entirely ordinary.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

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“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

Horse Labor Instead of Tractors

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Three different parcels of land were committed for a series of tests to directly compare the impact of tractors and horses on the land. One side of each parcel was worked only with horses and the other only with tractors. There were measurable differences between each side of the worked areas; the land’s capacity to hold water and greater aeration were up to 45cm higher in areas worked by horses as opposed to tractors.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT